Tosca - out with a bang

OPERA singer Fabio Armiliato must be thinking that Tosca is his profession's equivalent of Macbeth as a work of ill luck.

Appearing as the eponymous heroine's beloved, Mario Cavaradossi, in the production's first night at the open-air arena in Macerata last week, he was stretchered off near the end of the opera after being hit in the leg by debris from blanks fired in the execution scene.

For Friday night's performance, the tenor bravely hobbled back on stage - then fell and broke his other leg in two places while standing in the wings at the end of the first Act. He returned to hospital by ambulance, commenting from his stretcher: "Could it be that I am destined never to leave this theatre on my own two feet?"

He told RAI state television: "It was incredibly bad luck. I put my foot down wrong." His injury will keep him out of action for two months. Earlier he had said he had resumed his role so as not to disappoint the fans at Macerata, whose festival is a highlight of Italian summer opera.

Armiliato's shooting was a grimly appropriate conclusion to an opera that has suffered more than its fair share of mishaps down the years. Indeed, in the context of the opera itself, the death of Mario is something of a mishap, since both he and Tosca believe that the rifles aimed at him are not loaded and that their salvation is nigh once the mock execution is over.

It can't have helped Armiliato's mood, as his legs gave way beneath him, to hear his co-star sing one last line about how convincingly he had just faked his own death. Fiction became hopelessly entangled with reality - and not for the first time in a production of Tosca.

Back in the 1920s, at the Met in New York, the knife with which Tosca (Maria Jeritza) murders the evil Baron Scarpia (Antonio Scotti) at the end of Act II failed to retract and the singer was stabbed. During the famous Covent Garden production of 1965, Maria Callas's hair caught fire while she was singing the title role and had to be put out by a quick-witted Scarpia, played by Tito Gobbi.

The firing squad scene has caused problems before now. Also in 1965, at Rome's Caracalla Baths, the gunfire scorched Gianni Raimondi's face.

A rather different mishap occurred in a previous Macerata festival, when the sound effects failed and the rifles made no noise. Next day a local paper wrote: "Cavaradossi dies of a heart attack."

Any number of calamities have attended the final moment, when Tosca flings herself off the ramparts, supposed to be those of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. Legend has it that one particularly portly soprano in the 1920s landed on the offstage trampoline and bounced straight back up in full view of the audience. More seriously, the American singer Elisabeth Knighton Printy jumped off the wrong side of the stage in St Paul, Minnesota, two years ago and plunged more than 30ft to the ground, breaking both legs.

Going to the opera is such a respectable pursuit that there is something strangely heartening about such stories of disaster and incompetence. Yet all the ingredients for unexpected catastrophes, from high emotion to low cunning, are right there in the genre itself. Tosca is far from the only casualty. Indeed, Fabio Armiliato himself was in hospital once before, after a sword pierced his foot during a production of Carmen.

He has many illustrious precedents. At a performance of Rigoletto in Chile in 1970, as the tenor Louis Quilico threw his head back to start singing, a feather floated down from the rafters straight into his mouth. He passed out without uttering a sound.

Rather higher drama was on offer in Montevideo in 1934 when an orchestra member pulled out a gun and killed the conductor in mid-performance. It turned out that the conductor, Franco Paolantonio, had been sleeping with his wife.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
Jonatahn Sexton scores a penalty
rugby
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
weird news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?